Early warning technology can help residents prepare for an earthquake

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By Hilary Norton

Any alert of a potential natural disaster can be better than no warning at all but most don’t know simple warning systems for natural disasters are at our fingertips.

Scientists have been utilizing different technologies that allow them to receive an earthquake warning. Although the advanced technology has not made its way to Utah yet, there are other ways residents can prepare for the worst.

In February, the advanced early warning system was introduced to the U.S. federal government. The government has an exclusive club of scientists in Pasadena, Calif., testing this new alert system. The alerts pop up on the scientist’s computer screens when an earthquake has struck in the state. So far, this technology does not send messages to residents or businesses.

Elizabeth Cochran, a scientist who is part of the team in Pasadena, told the Associated Press that if she had not received the alert, she would not have known a recent earthquake hit near Los Angeles. The alert projected a countdown on her screen seconds before the energy waves would reach her. The system also presented her with a map of the state and a red dot signaling the location of the epicenter.

Until this system becomes available to the general public, there are other ways to receive a warning.

“Each individual can have their own personal early warning device,” said Ron Harris, a structural geology professor. “So when [an earthquake] came, it would not catch you in a vulnerable position that would possibly be dangerous.”

This device, which ranges in price from $30 to $60, contains a pendulum that hangs between two metal bars. An alarm is activated when seismic activity causes the pendulum to hit one of the sides. The alarm gives the user a few seconds notice to duck and cover.

For more than 20 years, the Wasatch fault has been overdue for what is projected to be a magnitude-7 earthquake. The fault line runs directly underneath campus and many residential neighborhoods from Malad City, Idaho, to Fayette, Utah.

Harris said because Utah has few intermediate earthquakes, residents don’t believe there is a serious issue. There is a lot the state has to do to become more prepared for a possible earthquake.

“People in Utah think they are ready for the earthquake because they have food storage and a 72-hour kit,” Harris said. “But that has nothing to do with surviving the earthquake. It only has to do with making things a little easier after the natural disaster.”

More than 150,000 buildings in the state are not ready for the anticipated disaster. This includes campus buildings, other local schools and most housing south of campus.

Harris founded In Harm’s Way, a nonprofit organization, to educate the misinformed and promote prevention efforts. The organization hopes to persuade local schools to install the device.

“If they could just protect themselves from the initial shock, their potential rate of survival would go up dramatically,” Harris said.

Like Harris said, many don’t know about these devices.

Courtney Booke, a senior majoring in accounting, said he didn’t realize there were tools to help prepare for an earthquake.

Booke said any instrument ensuring survival of the initial disaster is more important than an instrument for coping afterward.

“Something that could help you in the short-run would be invaluable,” Booke said.

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